Odyssey to Bali

These guinea hens were just hanging out by the pool

Eva has this exaggerated, four-year-old way of asking “what’s happening” by punching each word out: “What. Is. Happening.” She never uttered it yesterday, but it would have been appropriate for every travel snafu we ran into starting from the moment we arrived at the airport check-in counter at 10 in the morning. First, our noon flight had been pushed back by four hours. Then, I realized I left baby Luna’s passport at home, because I packed passports still thinking we were a family of four. Whoops. Then, a more severe passport snafu for her dad: Matty didn’t have six months left on his passport before its expiration date, so the airline straight up would not let him fly. The Matty situation required a lift from the embassy (which, thanks to having friends who are in consular affairs at the embassy, got him on the access list to get a new passport within hours). But even still, we had to leave him behind.

The Luna situation required calling back the driver who brought us to the airport, driving an hour+ through typical maddening Seoul traffic back HOME to get the passport, turning around and taking a train to the airport, get to the security checkpoint and have Eva’s boarding pass not clear due to a hyphen, walking her BACK to the counter on the other side of the departure hall, getting the hyphen fixed, going through security as a family of five (since Matt’s left behind, I have our helper Yani THANK GOD), then getting to the airport tram.

We had Isa in a stroller so this required an elevator. After attempts to take three different elevators — none of them air conditioned — all were out. We finally get to the gate via escalators and tram and that’s when Eva starts tantruming out because she’s hot and tired from all the walking. Our flight’s delayed another hour, Isa needs snacks, I have three-month-old baby Luna pressed on me the entire time with a look of “What. Is. Happening.” We finally get on the plane and amazing, have two empty seats next to us in our row, but before we can snag them to allow Isa and Eva to stretch out across them to sleep, Koreans rush up like they’re fleeing a war and belt themselves in them, leaving Yani stuck holding 30 pound Isa in a single seat while Isa sleeps for HALF THE FLIGHT. By the time we arrived at midnight, after first leaving the house for the airport at 9am, the girls were frayed but holding it together, I was sweatier than I’ve ever been and sleepy, Yani was just relieved to have Isa’s hot body not pressed against her and Luna was wishing she was back in the womb, I imagine.

Anyway I’m writing this down so I won’t forget yesterday. It was our first trip as a family of five and only four of us actually made it on the journey. (Yani became our fifth yesterday, and it was and is absolutely critical to our functioning.) And while we ran into annoying frustrations, it comes with the territory. (Ahem, like how our flight to leave the US and move to Seoul became several flights after the first attempt to move from our home country was aborted after we’d boarded and sat on a tarmac in Dulles for six hours. And still not nearly as bad as the night I slept in the baggage claim of DFW Airport.) Frankly it was an awesome day depending on how you look at it. But for that super long delay, we wouldn’t have had time to get Luna’s passport. But for our amazing friend at the embassy who we could just call up and get on the American Citizen Services access list, Matty wouldn’t have a new passport so fast, fast enough to get on a flight tonight to see us tomorrow.

And the destination after our arduous march was Bali — paradise! Over mango juice this morning at breakfast al fresco, Eva said to me unprompted, “Momma, Bali is so beautiful. Like 100 beautiful,” awarding imaginary points to it on her arbitrary (but valid) Eva scale.

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Cone of Shame and Other Blunders

Caesar’s in a cone of shame for a week. But I should be wearing it.

Caesar is in a cone because of my neglect. I am in charge of trimming the kitties fingernails and I have done so on the regular, for the past 13 years, in which our cat ownership has ranged from two to, at one point, five cats (one was a foster kitten, Miguel, for whom we found a “forever home.”) After Luna was born and I had to go back to work, I guess I just forgot about Caesar’s nails and yesterday when I tried to trim them, I discovered that several of them were ingrown, that is, they got so long that they GREW INTO his paw pads. Needless to say, I felt so horrible that I flipped out. The vet said we could come in right away, but I was cycling through crippling guilt so Matty had to be the one to take Caesar and receive the poor parenting lecture, which was then relayed to me. Caesar seems to be okay now and mainly relieved that someone finally remembered him.


Eddie Rodriguez, Memorable Running Buddy

Speaking of kittens, I’ve been really missing my old Austin running buddy, Eddie, lately. We used to have these rather insane experiences because we trained at five in the morning and you see some weird stuff at twilight. The scariest incident was catching a glimpse of a NUTRIA on Lavaca Street in downtown Austin and then watching it disappear down a sewer. That image still haunts me. Or there was the time we were speeding up the stairs of a bridge over Town Lake (I’m gonna keep calling it Town Lake, mmmkay?) and we were confronted with giant human feces on the steps. It was really, shockingly large. I suppose it could have come from a mastiff or something, but Eddie and I are convinced that dump was of the human variety.

Our most insane running adventure was the time we were on one of our final training runs before the San Antonio marathon and had to log 20 miles. Nothing memorable happened until we had only four miles to go and we heard the distinct sound of kittens crying from inside some bushes. We stopped to see what was going on, found kittens clearly in distress and no sign of a momma cat, so we somehow lured the kittens to us and withstood clawing to pick them up. We then held them against our bodies — he had two, I had one — and ran, bouncing up and down, WITH CLAWING KITTENS IN OUR ARMS for three miles. I took them home, we called Austin Pets Alive and got them fostered until they were adopted. That was dramatic, man.

I haven’t been to Austin since those four hours I stopped there for Hannah’s baby shower, so when I get back there again, Eddie and I are going on a reunion run for the ages. I hope we do not see nutria.


No Alarms (and No Surprises) Please

OK Computer turned 20. I am really enjoying all the tributes. The New York Times breakdown is the most thorough, but I also liked that NPR dug into its archives for the interview with Radiohead when it came out. During my quarterly existential dread, I play ‘No Surprises‘ in a loop and that’s how spouse Stiles knows that it’s time for my quarterly existential dread. I THINK I’m a cheerful person, but then again, my favorite song is ‘No Surprises’ so maybe I’m actually catatonic. “This is my final fit…”

Today Isabel broke our Obama bobblehead, which I feel like is a really sad metaphor. She ran around the house yelling, “BROKEN, BROKEN!” at the top of her lungs.

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Poking Fun At My Brother Never Gets Old

I found a photo of Roger when he was 15 and I was 17 and promptly texted him about it.

As y’all know, there are few things that delight me more than teasing my little brother, who at 33 years old and 6’2″ is not that little. I was at my parents house last week, where there are so many great pictures from yesteryear, like this Hu family shot from 2000, when Roger was clearly going through some stuff, as he admits.

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On The Emotional Work Of Mommying

Talked with GOOD Magazine about motherhood’s emotional labor.

Goodbye To My Grandma Rock

(A Chinese translation of this is available below the English.)

My grandmother died early this morning, aged 94. She was so strong and full of grit that part of me believed she would never die.

When my mom called to tell me, she didn’t say grandma died, she said, “Grandma left.” As if grandma went out on an errand. But I knew what she meant.

My mother is 61 years old and a grandmother herself, four times over. But she said to me, her voice breaking, “It’s unimaginable navigating this world without a mother.”

Grandma lived in Taiwan, and I was born and raised in the U.S., so I didn’t really get to know her until I was a teenager and we traveled back and forth more often. My mom’s relationship with her mom is so deep that I remember sometime around first grade, feeling really envious of grandma. Who was this woman my mom loved so much? By the time I was old enough to understand, I only wanted to spend more time with Grandma Rock, the ultimate survivor. The kind of survivor that made me believe she’d never die.

Grandma’s surname is Shih, which literally translates to rock. And it’s fitting. She’s the oldest of six siblings, a well-known educator and later in life, one of Taiwan’s earliest female politicians.

She’s also two-times a war refugee — surviving the most devastating conflicts in recent Chinese history. When the Japanese invaded “Manchuria” in the Sino-Japanese War during WWII, she and her family were forced out of their home in Northeast China and migrated to central China. Decades later she had to flee again, many of her siblings in tow, during the brutal Chinese Civil War, when Mao’s communists defeated Chiang Kai Shek’s Nationalists. She wound up in Taiwan until her death this morning.

She didn’t merely live. Grandma sucked the marrow out of life until the very end. She first worked as a teacher, but quickly became a principal and headmaster of the most elite women’s high schools in Taiwan. She was a working mom who never seemed to have any of our modern American angst about it. She had my aunt Linda, uncle Steve and her youngest, my momma, while also molding generations of young Taiwanese women at the schools she led. Those women have gone on to become artists and scientists and politicians and the brightest stars of Taiwan’s society. I remember visits to Taiwan and going out to eat with grandma in different cities. More often than not, we’d run into a former student who would recognize her and come by to say hello and thank you.

They recalled her being strict and exacting. I recall her being tough but warm, and how she found so many things delightful and humorous. She laughed with her whole body. One time when I was 12, we were in the backseat of a cab that was taking too long to get some place, and my externally sober grandma decided to show me her stupid human tricks to pass the time. Let’s just say she’s crazy flexible. She also showed me that you can do more than just roll your tongue in half — you can fold it three ways, like a flower. So now I too, can do this, if you ever want to see. (Apparently the ability to do this is genetic, so I guess grandma expected I’d be able to follow suit.)

While she expected excellence out of everyone, she reserved the toughest standards for herself. I have never seen her flub anything, especially when she spoke. When she came to my wedding in Amsterdam, she was 87 and still the sharpest one in the room. She spoke at the ceremony and at the reception in her native Mandarin Chinese. My friend Drew said afterward, “I couldn’t understand a word she said, but when Grandma speaks, we all know to shut up and listen!” She commanded the room like no one I’ve ever seen and probably will never see again.

The other thing I remember vividly about Grandma is her emphasis on (social and civic responsibility). She talked about it all the time. “Why’d you have three kids when you were so busy in your career?” .” “Hey, why’d you retire so late?” “.”

After she retired from her education career in Taichung — her final posting as principal was at a top all-girl’s high school there — my grandma continued breaking glass ceilings and served as one of the only women representatives to her political party’s national congress. “Why’d you get involved in the rough-and-tumble of politics when you could have just enjoyed yourself?” “.”

By the time she died, she was the matriarch of a huge extended family. She was a mother of three, grandmother to six and a great-grandmother to five. (Thanks to her side of the family, I have about 70 cousins and second cousins and we all kinda know each other.)

Despite her age, it was unexpected when I got the news of her passing because she had just come out of a scary gall bladder surgery a month ago and was doing really well. I video-chatted with her last week and she was looking and sounding great. She spent all day yesterday playing mahjong, which she has enjoyed in her final years, after she stopped all the international travel, yoga practice and ballroom dancing of her seventies and eighties.

My newborn Luna was going to meet her great-grandma Rock on Monday — we’ve had tickets to Taipei for weeks. We missed her by mere days. But grandma went in peace, at her home, and with my mom by her side. She knew the love of family, which is what she wished for us, especially after her own siblings were split up during China’s external and internal wars. She spoke about it often. So I’ll end this with what grandma said in her own words, from a speech she gave the family at a reunion in 2009:

“During China’s political turmoil our family was separated in an effort to flee to safety. Consequently, my siblings and I grew up during a very trying time where everyone was forced to fend for themselves. We lost contact with one another. Our biggest regret was not being able to enjoy the blessings of family warmth and sibling love.

Since we endured childhood loneliness without family, it is our wish that the future generations will see the value and enjoy the blessings of one another’s love and support. It is our hope the ties of our family love will be our legacy that is passed on to all future generations.”

With grandma and mom after I got hitched in Amsterdam, in 2010. She was 87!

You can read this in Chinese, after the jump.

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Here Are My Favorite Links On Motherhood

To mark Valentine’s Day, I dug into my Evernote (where I obsessively save links of interest) and found all the reads I’d tagged with “love.” For this Mother’s Day, I dove back in and cobbled together memorable links on motherhood, a topic that teaches, inspires and challenges me every moment. While I never grew up imagining my wedding/getting married, I always knew instinctively I’d be a mom.

As I write this, I’m surrounded by the singing, stomp-running and occasional screaming of three girls under the age of five, all who call me momma. My love for them is the deepest deep, and becoming a mom made me love my own mother — and need her — even more than I always had. When I was nursing eldest daughter Eva that first week of her life, my mom would stand over me with a bowl of soup and actually feed me as I was feeding my own baby, since my hands weren’t free. To my mom, my 30 year-old body was still her responsibility to nourish, just as I was doing for Eva. I recall so vividly a magical symmetry in the three of us together in those early days of Eva’s life.

Not all of us have kids, but we all have moms, so these links are for everyone.

We’re not so different from our own moms. “Because I’m so attached to her, I’m less attached to my own ego.” The conundrum of combining being an artist and being a mother. Tina Fey’s prayer for her daughter. On being a foreign correspondent and a mother. There’s no real safety net for working mothers. The worrying puritanism of progressive parents. Mothers are keepers of bodies. Becoming a new father, slowly. Getting pregnant is neither punishment nor reward. The only baby book you’ll need. Advice new moms gave me before I became one. The toll of pregnancy on a woman’s body, in one comic. Celebrate nannies and the network of people who care for your child. We have to stop thinking of work-life balance as a woman’s problem. Friend Kat remembers her late mom, by literally walking in her shoes. Thoughts on my back-to-back miscarriages. The black magic of being a mom, even for a moment. “I asked myself, ‘What am I going to lose by having a child?’ And so far the answer is nothing.” Letting go gets even harder when the children grow up.

With Isabel, in Okinawa, last year.

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Harper’s Bazaar Junior

That time we were in Harper’s Bazaar.

To be honest, I didn’t even know there was such a thing as Harper’s Bazaar Junior, and I have some real reservations about haute couture for kids (because it’s really for the adults, isn’t it?). Anyway a writer reached out to me after finding me on Instagram and asked for some recommendations of places we like to take the kids to eat and play, in Seoul. Here’s my contribution, which features my go-to “Chicken Cauldron Place,” which as it turns out, has a real name.

 

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Just as it was in my own childhood, we make a point to sit down together for dinner as a family every night when I’m not traveling. (This family gathering happens at around 5:30pm, which means I often have first dinner and second dinner, because I eat again when I go out with friends.) Anyway, it’s been pretty funny lately because Eva gets impatient with listening to her dad and I blather on about things like American politics. So we started taking turns telling each other about what we did each day which ensures Eva gets a prominent role.

Eva loves her turn to talk about her day, and she’s added some flair to it. Sometimes she says, “First, I will start with a song” and proceed to sing an entire song before going through her day chronologically and fielding our questions about it. Last night, when it was Matty’s turn, he goes, “First, I will begin with a song.”

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Roger Gifs #4: Finger Lickin’ Good

I’m not sure what sort of Indonesian delight my brother Roger is eating here, but he seems to indicate to us that it was delicious.

Yum yum yum yum yum yum yum. Delicioso!

 

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